Losing Your Laptop: Five Steps You Can Take

So you're rushing to catch a plane. You've got an important database on your laptop, along with sensitive university information. And then, suddenly, it's gone. Either you've lost it, or it's been stolen. Now you're in a real jam. Airports, hotels and restaurants are favorite places for thieves. Laptops disappear from them all the time and that's bad enough. But often, irreplaceable data is gone too. None of this has to happen to you. But you have to be extra careful today. Here are five guidelines to help you avoid seeing your notebook (and your sensitive data!) disappear.

AVOID SENSITIVE DATA

Nothing could be more important that this -- only bring the information that you absolutely *need* when traveling -- and even then use good judgement. For instance, a database full of usernames, passwords and social security numbers should never be put onto a portable device such as a laptop. These things can be stored in a centrally accessible repository like Box. Box is fast, encrypted and accessible from anywhere. And any data that is restricted should *not* be stored on any unencrypted laptop. For more details on classifying what is and what is not "confidential" data, be sure to check out this page.

 WHEN YOU ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NEED SENSITIVE DATA... ENCRYPT IT!

If your laptop is not encrypted, you may encrypt individual files. Programs such as TrueCrypt make the job easy. If a thief nabs your machine, these extra steps will make it more difficult to access the laptop's data. Encryption will protect your business secrets. What it won't do... is bring your laptop/data back. To do that, you've got to back up all your files and information to another computer. Once again, we recommend using Box as it offers a secure, centralized place to story your sensitive files.

 PHYSICAL SECURITY IS IMPORTANT TOO

When you travel, carry your laptop in a laptop backpack. There's lots of room in there, and it's inconspicuous. Fashionable businesspeople carrying laptops in expensive cases -- they're asking for trouble. Those cases say, "Laptop! Laptop! Steal me!" And most importantly, don't let it out of your sight. This becomes especially difficult if you are selected for a random head-to-toe check. This means that, once on board your flight, you should put the computer under the seat in front of you. Try to avoid putting it in the overhead bin. Others will have more access to it there.

 CAN YOU TRACE A STOLEN LAPTOP?

 If your laptop does get stolen, you should always contact the Department of Public Safety as well as the University Information Security Office. There are steps we can take to try and recover your laptop or at least pinpoint who stole it. But should those efforts fail... wouldn't it be great if the system could do the high-tech equivalent of phoning home? There are programs that will report the location of a stolen laptop. They work when the laptop connects to the Internet. Some claim to report the laptop's exact physical location. Tracing programs include zTrace, CyberAngel, and ComputracePlus.